Is anyone surprised? After James Franco and Anne Hathaway bombed the show last year, and standing out amidst bad Oscar hosts is more difficult than it sounds, the Academy could not afford to pretend to be an event for both the highbrow, low intellect industry elite and those that actually vote for the People’s Choice Awards. Like a show going on for eighty-four years is bound to do, the Academy Awards have fallen back hard into what’s worked for them for decades: drawn out self-congratulatory bravado that has survived only because winning one of its accolades still actually means something.
It’s not all bad news though, film buffs. While you are disinclined to remain loyal to this old ceremony, and you certainly won’t sink down to the level of the MTV Movie Awards crowd, Oscar is doing his best to bring back the good with the dull. Since they can no longer circumvent their antiquated reputation, the Academy is just going to tighten up the corset and embrace it. Billy Crystal’s return could be just the warm cup of cocoa to long-time viewers the producers are hoping for, and despite nine best pictures, everyone has stopped kidding themselves that blockbusters like “Harry Potter” or indie darlings like “Drive” ever stood a chance. It’ll be the most comfortable of ruts to be sure, so let’s all pretend we don’t have gambling problems and run through the good old Oscar predictions, shall we?
As it has been with the past two years, the movies most likely to win will be presented in bold, with those that should win but won’t italicized.
And the Nominees Are…
Short Subject Documentary
- “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement” Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
- “God Is the Bigger Elvis” Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
- “Incident in New Baghdad” James Spione
- “Saving Face” Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
- “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen
I’m tempted to give this one to “God if the Bigger Elvis” just by title alone. But that won’t win a rather simple documentary short anything against more topical competition. “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” has the award for most current subject matter – the aftermath of Japan’s devasting tsunami early last year – locked, while “The Barber of Birmingham” nailed the exact opposite, having one of the most timeless material – the civil rights era – to work from. “To Hell and Back Again” would be a shoe in, given its dealing with soldiers, always a safe bet for Oscar. But against all that, “Saving Grace” will sneak out and win, standing out amidst such awards-pandering fare by being the least obtuse of the bunch.
Animated Short Feature
- “Dimanche/Sunday” Patrick Doyon
- “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
- “La Luna” Enrico Casarosa
- “A Morning Stroll” Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
- “Wild Life” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby
“Dimanche/Sunday” is cute and French, “La Luna” is what Pixar made this year that didn’t stink of mediocrity, “A Morning Stroll” was a great simple story that hid behind a sophisticated collection of shifting styles, and “Wild Life” was kind of witty. All that doesn’t matter, anyone that has seen “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is aware of just how little a contest this is.
Live Action Short Feature
- “Pentecost” Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
- “Raju” Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
- “The Shore” Terry George and Oorlagh George
- “Time Freak” Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
- “Tuba Atlantic” Hallvar Witzø
Let’s just get this straight, “Time Freak” is just happy to be here. The real life story of the couple that produced the short deciding on an end-all bid for filmmaking glory over an apartment will be good between-celebrities red carpet fodder, but won’t last beyond Billy Crystal’s opening number. That being said, “The Shore” will likely stand out even in the short little clip shown as it’s nomination is announced, especially against the plodding “Pentecost” and “Tuba Atlantic”. Although, given the clip of their reaction to their nomination alone, I want to see the team behind “Tuba” give an acceptance speech. “Raju” could have a chance though.
- “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
- “Hugo” Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
- “Moneyball” Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick
- “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
- “War Horse” Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” would be the traditional pick for both the sound categories, as these awards tend to go to the flicks that impressed audiences, but were far too mainstream and successful to win an Oscar. But this year we have “Hugo” for all our backhanded compliment awards, so expect Fleischman and Midgley’s mixing to be receiving some gold. “War Horse” could get a boost from all the horse-lovers in the voting block, but the folks behind “Moneyball” must already be girding their loins for a shut out. And “Transformers”? Even the Academy wouldn’t be that low.
- “Drive” Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
- “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Ren Klyce
- “Hugo” Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
- “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
- “War Horse” Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom
Despite the near perfection of the sound work in “Drive”, a single nomination almost always foreshadows disappointment. This award is usually awarded as a pair with Mixing, so unless “War Horse” pulls that equine-affinity upset we discussed earlier, expect another for “Hugo” here. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” will continue the night’s second biggest losing streak (behind the not-even-nominated-here “Moneyball”) here.
And why is “Transformers” here for both of these awards, against all logic? Was it because “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” was just too successful?
- “The Artist” Production Design: Laurence Bennett, Set Decoration: Robert Gould
- “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” Production Design: Stuart Craig, Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
- “Hugo” Production Design: Dante Ferretti, Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
- “Midnight in Paris” Production Design: Anne Seibel, Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
- “War Horse” Production Design: Rick Carter, Set Decoration: Lee Sandales
The one to win Art Direction is usually pretty enough to be nominated for, but never garish enough to win, best Costume Design. That leaves “War Horse”, “Harry Potter”, and “Midnight in Paris” out. Again, look for this to be a concession piece to “Hugo”, as “The Artist” moves on to bigger things later in the night.
- “Albert Nobbs” Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
- “Harry Potter and the Deat hly Hallows Part 2” Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin
- “The Iron Lady” Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland
“The Iron Lady” is basically nominated for the film’s old-Margret-Thatcher-reminiscing framing device, and while “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” would usually take the prize for its plethora of hair extensions and old age makeup, this is is “Albert Nobbs” to lose. While the film’s makeup is paraded around just as much as its fellow nominees, it being one of the essential elements to the main plot will keep it fresh enough in voter’s minds to push through.
- “Anonymous” Lisy Christl
- “The Artist” Mark Bridges
- “Hugo” Sandy Powell
- “Jane Eyre” Michael O’Connor
- “W.E.” Arianne Phillips
The flashiest, most period-centric films always win here. It’s also the only category where not being nominated elsewhere could actually be an early indicator of victory, statistically speaking (did anyone watch “The Duchess”?) The most shameless eye candy this year, following our historically minded precedent if not our gaudy one, is “Jane Eyre”. Sandy Powell’s work on “Hugo” and Mark Bridges’ wardrobes on “The Artist” will be facing off just in case the Academy finally releases that good costumes can exist without frills, but both “Anonymous” and “W.E.” will barely register come the night of the ceremony.
Hell, why is “Anonymous” even here, when “Midnight in Paris” managed a better capture of its time period and had the added benefit of being a good movie?
- “The Artist” Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
- “The Descendants” Kevin Tent
- “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
- “Hugo” Thelma Schoonmaker
- “Moneyball” Christopher Tellefsen
The second most open race of the night, all but “Moneyball” could take home the statue, it all depends on what kind of year it is. In almost a binary fashion, Oscar voters tend to alternate between awarding the Editing gold to the most dramatic of cutters, and to the most conventional. The melodic pacing of “The Social Network” took home the prize last year, but with Fincher also behind “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, this may be the year to break convention. Thelma Schoonmaker is well respected in the Oscar circles, giving “Hugo” more of a fighting chance than “The Descendants”.
But with the Academy unwilling to award Oscars to the same non-Producer team twice in a row, look for the next flashiest bay work, that in “The Artist” to continue the year-over-year dichotomy.
- “The Artist” Guillaume Schiffman
- “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Jeff Cronenweth
- “Hugo” Robert Richardson
- “The Tree of Life” Emmanuel Lubezki
- “War Horse” Janusz Kaminski
The award for Cinematography has always been a carte blanche commendation to the film that looks the most “artsy”. And, like offensive material to Supreme Court justices, most just know what that means when they see it. If the trend continues this year, “Tree of Life” has it in the bag. “War Horse” could upset with its old studio-esque throwback design, but “The Artist” has bigger awards to win and “Hugo” is shaping up to be the film with the most losses of the year. Jeff Cronenworth’s work on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” could just be flashy enough to be the big win for the film, but don’t bet on it.
- “Harry Potter and the Deat hly Hallows Part 2” Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
- “Hugo” Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
- “Real Steel” Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
- “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
- “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier
Despite the arguably tighter race this year, the blockbuster of blockbusters “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” will still walk away with the win. Granted, if voters want to reward the excellent use of 3D in “Hugo”, but not enough to vote for it in the larger categories, it stands an outside chance. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” should be bringing this one home, especially since the Academy’s stuffy disregard for motion capture froze out Andy Serkis’ superb work.
“Real Steel” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”? You don’t even need to guess.
- “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets, Music and Lyrics by Bret McKenzie
- “Real in Rio” from Rio, Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, Lyrics by Siedah Garrett
Once the category for the songs that both top the Billboard 100 and close out a film’s credits, we’re now left with a yearly list of whatever non-licensed tune had a cool enough music video when submitted for appraisal. A combination of Oscar voters shunning the idea of popular tunes being recognized, and the changing music industry leading to less collaborations between songsters and screenwriters have left the “Original Song” group barren for years. 2011’s nominees really show Oscar’s bald spot, as only two managed a good enough aggregate score (85%+) to be considered. Odd, considering the wonderful work done by Sinead O’Connor in “Lay Your Head Down” for “Albert Nobbs”.
The majority of musician’s loss is Flight of the Concords’ Bret McKenzie’s gain, however, as the humorous and genuinely well composed “Man or Muppet” will easily trump the South American big band vibe of “Real in Rio”. That, and this will be the only opportunity for the Academy to acknowledge a film that struck a near “Toy Story 3”-level nostalgic chord across many of its middle demographics.
- “The Adventures of Tintin” John Williams
- “The Artist” Ludovic Bource
- “Hugo” Howard Shore
- “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Alberto Iglesias
- “War Horse” John Williams
One nomination for “Tintin”, really? And not even for its best element? And the worst of it is, John Williams will split his own vote, canceling out any hope for “War Horse” in the same breath. “Hugo”‘s Howard Shore had his time in the sun too recently with “Return of the King”, and Alberto Iglesias’ “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” may have been just too subtle a soundtrack. That leaves Ludovic Bource and “The Artist” as the only other option. Victory by default is still victory!
- “Hell and Back Again” Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
- “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
- “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
- “Pina” Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
- “Undefeated” TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas
The knee jerk response to the Documentary awards (both short and feature) are to go with what is most topical. “Hell and Back Again” gets points for focusing on the always award-fodder lives of soldiers, but “If a Tree Falls” may be too fringe a story to resonate across the entire voting block. And with “Pina” being almost a non-movie in its open-ended presentation and lack of narrative, that leaves “Paradise Lost 3” to pick up the pieces and a retroactive Oscar for all its prequels at the same time.
- “Bullhead” Belgium
- “Footnote” Israel
- “In Darkness” Poland
- “Monsieur Lazhar” Canada
- “A Separation” Iran
As odd as it sounds, this may be the category where Oscar voters most associate with the audience, in that most don’t actually watch the films nominated here. As intriguing as it would be if the winner here was the result of some intricately drawn out insider politics of the lee-bral media, it’s more likely that whomever wins here did so with a film that worked well enough without voters have to read too much. Not saying that good films can’t win here, as many past victories surfed pretty significant waves of hype. But subtlety and nuance are not the most rewarded qualities here.
While no film has reached pre-show levels of buzz like “Amelie”, the additional nomination given to “A Separation” is the most significant evidence in its favor. “Bullhead” has got a lot of passion and ferocity that could let it side step the frontrunner, but it is the sole other competitor. “In Darkness” may focus on one of Oscar’s favorite subjects (WWII), but that usually doesn’t work that well unless it’s made both by Americans and with America’s idyllic version of the conflict. “Footnote” and “Monsieur Lazhar” are both here to respectively round out the contest with favorable countries. Why else would Canada count as a foreign nation?
- “A Cat in Paris” Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
- “Chico & Rita” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
- “Kung Fu Panda 2” Jennifer Yuh Nelson
- “Puss in Boots” Chris Miller
- “Rango” Gore Verbinski
And so ends one of the greatest Oscar-streaks in the show’s history. Pixar’s only nomination this year was for its short “La Luna”, and it won’t even win that. Regardless of who takes home the pride, Dreamwork’s two nods give them some damn solid board room bragging rights, and will probably score them even more creative leeway with stockholders for their next project. That also means that the company’s second spot took the place of another opportunity to bring up the Netflix returns of another independent animation, but the Academy can only be so gracious to foreign and low-traffic projects.
That said, neither Dreamwork’s dual prodigies nor the just-happy-to-be-here foreigners will win out over the stunning design work Industrial Light and Magic gave “Rango“.
(Seriously though, “Kung Fu Panda 2” AND “Puss in Boots” over “Rio”? Why? Does the Academy not even PLAY Angry Birds?)
- “The Descendants” Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
- “Hugo” Screenplay by John Logan
- “The Ides of March” Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
- “Moneyball” Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Story by Stan Chervin
- “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan
Always a bit muddier to decipher than its Original cousin category, the Adapted Screenplay race is more up in the air than the race has been for years. Literally every single nomination – save for the “Good Night and Good Luck” love boiling over for the hokey “Ides of March” – has a shot here. “The Descendants” has a better percentage here than the other big categories, and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” may win here to make up for Oldman’s lack of a golden man.
“Hugo” and “Moneyball” are the more under of dogs here, the latter barely trailing behind the former due to Sorkin’s victory in the same category last year for “Social Network”. Honestly, this is the show’s biggest gut-check night, and despite the old-school tension-plays of Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s script, I’m going to guess Alexander Payne’s continued goodwill with the Academy after “Sideways” will put him over the edge, if nowhere else.
- “The Artist” Written by Michel Hazanavicius
- “Bridesmaids” Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
- “Margin Call” Written by J.C. Chandor
- “Midnight in Paris” Written by Woody Allen
- “A Separation” Written by Asghar Farhadi
Woody Allen has been the screenwriting darling of the Oscars for decades now, despite only showing up to the show once, for a post-9/11 tribute to New York. The fact that voters loaded this category up with a straight comedy, a lukewarm drama about the 2008 financial collapse that no one saw, the foreign film that’s going to win its own section and nothing else, and a silent movie pretty much gives the hand away. “Midnight in Paris” will land its lone award for the night here with little room to doubt.
Actor (In a Supporting Role)
- Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn”
- Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”
- Nick Nolte in “Warrior”
- Christopher Plummer in “Beginners”
- Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
And here is where the nucleus of the hipster-hate resides. Shoving aside Albert Brooks in “Drive” and Patton Oswalt in “Young Adult” for Jonah Hill and Max von Sydow is this year’s excuse for people to call shenanigans on the archaic Academy, as if anyone expected them to act differently. Hill and Sydow have just as much a chance of winning as Brooks or Oswalt, even with Sydow’s last minute surge in popularity. There will never be a better time to award a it’s-their-time medal than for Plummer, and as a plus, his turn as a father reconnecting with his son after coming out post-70 is actually worthy of the hyperbole.
And while Kenneth Branagh has made a career of superb performances in the past, with no Shakespearean dialogue, he’ll just get to smile and wave. If there is a dark horse in the race, it’s Nick Nolte in “Warrior”, a comfortably close to life role as a drunken support player past his prime.
Actress (In a Supporting Role)
- Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist”
- Jessica Chastain in “The Help”
- Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids”
- Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”
- Octavia Spencer in “The Help”
As much fun as it would be for her to win, Melissa McCarthy’s nomination is reminscient more of an audience draw – aJohnny Depp as Jack Sparrow – than anything award-likely. This character was popular, the Academy is acknowledging it, and hoping the fringe viewers this will rack up won’t lose them too much credibility at the next film snob brunch. Janet McTeer looks to be the fabled fifth slot that the Academy always seems to procrastinate on, waiting until the last minute to throw anyone remotely related to a movie nominated elsewhere in the show. Which is a shame if true, as McTeer gives one hell of a performance.
Chastain is here because the Academy hasn’t quite forgiven Emma Stone for “Easy A” yet, and Bejo seems to be the free bonus given away with any Dujardin nomination. Again, both are despite great work. But this category was wrapped up by Octavia Spencer a while ago, and she hasn’t wavered since.
Actor (In a Leading Role)
- Demián Bichir in “A Better Life”
- George Clooney in “The Descendants”
- Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”
- Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
- Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”
The Hollywood press seems to have confused their nigh endless infatuation with George Clooney with actual Oscar buzz. While Clooney has managed a career high performance, it’s nothing quite worthy of more than a nomination. A Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt”, if you will. This misappropriated crushing on the part of the media continues with this supposed rivalry with Brad Pitt for the prize, who also stands little chance – along with his film as a whole – of recovering from that steep fall from frontrunner status a few months back.
The complete absence of additional nominations for “A Better Life” do not bode well for Bichier, but his appearance on the docket will succeed in bringing the more diverse viewership Oscar was looking for when filling out the forms. Gary Oldman should be getting the award, if only for managing to curb the sophisticated Nicolas Cage gene he usually can’t help but whip out, but the old world charms of Jean Dujardin in that silent Hollywood love letter will win the night. Here’s hoping he either goes full French for his speech, or keeps it short.
Actress (In a Leading Role)
- Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs”
- Viola Davis in “The Help”
- Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
- Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”
- Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn”
I have no idea why people continue to believe Meryl Streep has a chance at the Oscars. She is, undeniably, the Queen of the Oscars, but in the figurehead capacity. A podium to wave at during the parade, and near uniform adoration, all with nothing to show for it since the 70s. While the Academy looks to be harboring a serious grudge against David Fincher, their nomination of Rooney Mara is a gesture of good faith in what would be the “Greatest New Talent” award if they still gave that out.
Michelle Williams gave an admirable performance as Hollywood’s abused poster girl, but with little victories – or even nominations – in the major pre-Academy Awards ceremonies leaves little likelihood of a victory here. Consider her the darkest of equines. If anyone truly has a chance to snatch the award from frontrunner Viola Davis, it’s Glenn Close. Again falling back on the mathematics (real life person + who is not straight + played by a career performer who has never won despite multiple nods), the numbers seem to be on Close’s side. But with Davis we have both a racism-is-bad message preaching to the most devout of choirs (remember “Crash”?) and the kind of movie-defining pathos that led to victories like Monique’s in “Precious”. Plus, she should have won for “Doubt”, and the Academy is all about rectifying mistakes.
- “The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius
- “The Descendants” Alexander Payne
- “Hugo” Martin Scorsese
- “Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen
- “The Tree of Life” Terrence Malick
Martin Scorsese, despite the lack of any buzz in the past few months, has seen a surge in predictive support. And while one of the masters is certainly in his top form – both as a director and film restoration and preservation advocate – in “Hugo”, it’s doubtful the buzz will hold any statuesque weight. Woody Allen will always be a writer to the Academy, and the limited nominations for “The Tree of Life” spell out doom for Terrence Malick’s odds. And while it’s likely the Academy could reverse its apprehension towards Alexander Payne as a director, it’ll be Michael Hazanavicius‘ night.
- “The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer
- “The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
- “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer
- “The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
- “Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
- “Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
- “Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
- “The Tree of Life” Nominees to be determined
- “War Horse” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers
Even with nine nominees, the Best Picture nominations can be cut down by more than half with little issue. “Midnight in Paris” will be awarded in the Screenplay category, “The Help” with its actors, and “Moneyball”, “War Horse”, “The Tree of Life” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” with little to nothing. “Hugo” was coddled in the sound and art direction categories, and while “The Descendants” would be the kind of unexpected (and unworthy) upset the Academy tends to love, it looks like “The Artist” will be the ultimate victor for the year.
And in case you are possess even a sliver of doubt, just remember. The only thing better for Hollywood than loving and praising itself, is having someone reach over to your lap and do it for them.
But what do the EGs think? Who will win each category in your minds? What were the year’s big snubs? Comment below, quick, the show is tomorrow!